Six steps for increasing productivity

Productivity is about having the right mindset and setting achievable expectations that will keep you motivated. No matter the task, these six steps will help keep you on track:

1. Create a list of every possible to-do

Stuck and not sure where to start? Overwhelmed? Write down every task that comes to mind then group them into categories. Mark the goals that are too ambitious and break these items into smaller, obtainable tasks. Then use this list to plan out your week(s).

2. Plan your week in advance

For work goals, I like to plan each individual task in a weekly spreadsheet, allowing for easy visualization and modification.

I prefer to choose a theme for each day of the week, which creates varied structure and encourages progress towards several projects. Assign a handful of achievable goals each day. Important tip: overestimate the time needed to complete each task to prevent backup and dissatisfaction later in the week. Now that you have your schedule, it is time to get to work.

Example of my weekly calendar

3. Use the Pomodoro technique: timed intervals of productivity

The Pomodoro technique is simple and involves only a timer. Break down your work into small intervals of about 25 minutes. After each session, reward yourself with a 5 minute break. Once four sessions are completed, you earn a 15 minute break.

Start with this smaller interval of 25 minutes and work up to 30-45 minute intervals. If I am motivated or in the middle of a task, I’ll begin the next interval and skip the break until I reach an appropriate stopping point. On the other hand, if I find that a 45 minute interval becomes too daunting, I drop back down to 30 minutes. My daily goal is 6 hours of focused work, broken into 45 minute intervals.

4. Recognize your distractions: phone, email, and time of day

Struggling to get through your first interval? Put your phone on “do not disturb” and keep it across the room or hidden in a drawer. The temptation to respond to notifications, or even just the vibration from your phone, will interrupt your focused thoughts.

Just like phones, email notifications are equally distracting. Set aside two times during the work day to check and reopened to email, rather than allowing it to distract from your work.

Similarly, random to-dos may pop into your mind. Write these down on a nearby notepad to complete once your focused task is finished. Even if it is a simple task, attending to it now will disrupt your focus.

Furthermore, recognize what time of day your productivity is highest and structure your work accordingly. Early bird or night owl? Do you hit a temporary slump after lunch? Tackle your largest, energy-consuming project at your most productive times, while saving simple tasks, like reading emails, for later.

5. If you’re struggling, switch to a different task

You cleared your distractions, but if you’re spending 1 hour on a task that should take 15 minutes, you aren’t working efficiently. Step away from your work briefly to clear your mind. If you still lack motivation, return to your large to-do list from step 1 or your weekly view from step 2. Do any of those tasks seem more appealing? Switching to a new task may give you a burst of energy.

6. Reward yourself with smaller tasks

If you accomplish your one large task for the day, it may not feel as productive or motivating as accomplishing a short list of tasks. Including a few small, obtainable tasks on your daily list will help chip away at a large project and give you the satisfaction to keep going throughout the day.

Bonus: Keep an activity log

Everyday, I write the date and mark a tick as I complete a new Pomodoro session. Under the date, I summarize what task I completed and approximately how much time it took. Keeping this activity log helps me reflect on what I accomplished. Additionally, it’s encouraging to look back at previous week’s logs and see how I efficiently used my time.

Above all, recognize which of your habits are beneficial and what time of day or conditions you produce your best work. Completing these six tips daily will encourage productivity in the long-term.

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